Tomalei brings 20 years of higher education experience to the PhD program at St. Jude. She is a student and faculty centered professional whose career has focused on educational access, diversity, and excellence. A first-generation college student, Tomalei earned a bachelor's degree in biology from James Madison University, where she conducted research for three years, an endeavor that changed her career path from medicine to research and teaching. She received her Ph.D. in biology from Duke University. After serving as a consultant for Duke's Women's Initiative, Vess joined the faculty at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, a residential public high school within the University of North Carolina system. She then returned to Duke as assistant dean in the Graduate School, running summer undergraduate research programs, Ph.D. student recruitment and retention initiatives, and programs supporting the overall development of doctoral students. Vess’s focus on student development and research experience as means to promote student success continued in Duke’s interdisciplinary research Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, Virginia Tech, and Penn State.
Tomalei enjoys cycling, kayaking, running, and hanging out with her beagles, Abby and Boh. She has close ties to southwest Virginia and Appalachia, where her mother and brother live.